Here are five books people are talking about this week -- or should be:
1. The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson (Simon & Schuster)
The lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955, and his mother’s decision to hold an open casket funeral in Chicago, put an international spotlight on the horrors of American racism and helped to spark the Civil Rights Movement. Till, who had allegedly whistled at a white female cashier in a Mississippi store, was beaten, shot, and thrown into a river with a gin fan tied with barbed wire around his neck. The story of the lynching, and the defendants’ acquittal by an all-white jury, has been told many times. But this exhaustively researched, vividly written account by Tyson, a senior research scholar at Duke University, and the author of Blood Done Sign My Name, about a 1970 lynching in his own North Carolina hometown, is a game-changer. Tyson relays his conversations with the cashier, who reports that she fabricated her testimony entirely — adding yet another cruel angle to the horrific story. Ultimately, however, the power of this extraordinary book rests less with that disclosure – important as it is – than with Tyson’s masterful telling of the story and his ability to relate it persuasively to the struggles of our time.
2. The Men in My Life: A Memoir of Love and Art in 1950s Manhattan by Patricia Bosworth (Harper)
Bosworth, author of definitive biographies of complex creative characters like Montgomery Clift and Diane Arbus, turns to herself this time. This new memoir follows her 1997 Anything Your Little Heart Desires, which prominently featured her idealistic – but cruel – father, Bartley C. Crum, known for his defense of the Hollywood 10. The backdrop for this fascinating reminiscence is the theater world of the 1950s, including the elite Actors Studio, whose students included Elia Kazan, Marilyn Monroe, and Steve McQueen. But the story is about far more than old-time celebrities. Ultimately, it is a tale of resilience. Bosworth endured the suicides of both her father and her beloved brother, weathered a marriage to her abusive ex-husband, and survived an underground abortion. Through it all, she made a life for herself — from actress starring with Audrey Hepburn in the 1959 film The Nun’s Story, to psychologically perceptive biographer, and now, knowing memoirist.
3. A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea: One Refugee's Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival by Melissa Fleming (Flatiron Books)
After Doaa Al Zamel escaped from Syria, a pirate ship attacked the decrepit vessel she shared with almost 500 refugees seeking a better life. A rare survivor of the 2014 shipwreck, she treaded water in the Mediterranean Sea for four days. Much heralded, she has become an iconic symbol of bravery and survival. Fleming, head of communications for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, captures the full drama of Al Zamel’s story, and recounts it within the context of the civil war in Syria. In Al Zamel, Fleming finds a vivid embodiment of the cruel reality of the refugee crisis.
4. Lara: The Untold Love Story That Inspired Doctor Zhivago by Anna Pasternak (Ecco/HarperCollins)
Boris Pasternak’s epic novel Dr. Zhivago, with its protagonist Yuir Zhivago, married physician and poet, in love with younger woman Olga Ivinskaya, was set during the turbulent years after World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the rise of Communism. After the Soviets blocked the novel’s publication, it was smuggled to Milan and published in 1957. Director David Lean’s cinematic version, Doctor Zhivago, released in 1965, was one of the Top 10 highest-grossing films of all-time when totals are adjusted for inflation, and the novel is a modern classic. In this fascinating study, Anna Pasternak, the author’s grand-niece, focuses on Olga, the widowed mother of two, and her grand-uncle’s mistress and muse. She recounts not just a romantic love for the ages, but the darker story that followed: how the Soviets harassed and punished Olga, blaming her for luring the Nobel Prize winner into damning them in his novel.
5. Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh (Penguin Press)
In this brilliant collection of stories, Moshfegh magically transforms a dark, unsettling world into an exquisite reading experience. In the opening story, “Bettering Myself,” a divorced, heavy-drinking Catholic schoolteacher with parents who send her decaffeinated teas and postage stamps is hung up on her ex-husband and living in a state of suspension. In the closing story “A Better Place,” a set of twins is convinced they are from another place, “not like a real place on Earth or something I could point to on a map,” as one of them says. The shadow of Eileen Dunlop, the eponymous, misanthropic anti-heroine of Moshfegh’s impressive and eerie debut novel – which was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize – hovers over this collection, but these beautifully composed stories about the lies we tell ourselves are very much their own enchanting thing.